Wednesday, November 30, 2016


Mikro is overbooked this semester. While Nanowrimo is a favorite activity here, we didn't even register him till after Thanksgiving, so I set a short wordcount that I thought would be challenging but doable in a couple of days... He did it! With much cajoling and a bit of collaboration (I helped, especially with the songs...), he finished another chapter of Enewan's Quest.

You can read the other installments at this link and this link.

ENEWAN's QUEST, Installment 4.

Copyright 2016, Mikro Coyne. All rights reserved.

DAY 2:

At sunrise, I met with the rest of my new team. Benaret is unusually tall, like her grandmother Binarim. Although she is fairly young, she is known as a formidable swordswoman. She carries three swords of different length on her back, and daggers in her boots. She seems eager to embark on our quest. Shiran, a stocky older warrior, is known for his stealth and his skill with the Sakarran, a three bladed throwing weapon. Retenotar, the third warrior, is slim and agile, and is known as the best archer in the Netarpa clan. We gathered for breakfast at the Hall of Sedenka, so that my master could help brief us on the journey ahead.

“You have all probably noticed that our Home Tree is looking sickly. You are going to help cure it by going on this quest to gather ingredients for a potion from the Realms of the Living, and from the Lower Realm.” Sedenka announced. “Enewan is fated to lead you on this quest. Rotonaka will accompany you and give advice and support,” he continued.

“Shaman Sedenka, why is the Kuru Dupal ailing?” asked Shiran.

Sedenka rose and faced the group. “That is a tale that began a long time ago,” he began. “You know that at the end of the Age of Chieftans, the Elerastapok overthrew the Evil Chieftan Seraivin. That great victory was not without cost, however. Seraivan’s last act as Chieftan was to summon from the Realm of the Damned a Fire Serpent, which has been corrupting the Kuru with its venom ever since. The poison is slow, but enough has flowed into the Kuru that it will die unless a healing potion is administered. You will gather the nine ingredients. The first is right here, in Netarpa. It is water from the sacred well of Netalian, which lies deep below the roots of the Kuru in the Temple of the Sacred Well.”

“Master,” I asked, “How are we to get past the Fire Serpent to reach the well?”

“Use your knowledge, Enewan. What would make the Seprent sleep?”

I pondered this for a moment. “Cold, Master?”

“Yes, young one. And for that, you shall need tarran.“


“It is time for you to complete your apprenticeship and create tarran of your own.”

“This child?!?” Rotonaka scoffed. “He is not ready.”

“The sacred map says otherwise!” Sedenka snapped. “The Elerastapok has spoken!”
Rotonaka glared, but fell silent.

“Master, I do not know how to create tarran.”

“I will help you, Enewan. This is the first great task of your quest, which you alone must fulfill.”

“The rest of you should get ready for our departure,” I ordered, trying to sound confident. “Gather provisions and trade goods, then return here to meet me this evening.” The warriors left immediately, already discussing what to pack. Rotonaka lingered.

“This knowledge is not for you, Rotanaka,” declared Sedenka. “You too must go and make ready for the journey.”

Rotonaka left, muttering under his breath.

“That one is trouble.” Sedenka warned. “But you must forget that for now and concentrate on the task at hand. Join me in the workshop,” he invited.

We passed through the heavy doors that separated Sedenka’s laboratory from the rest of his home. He opened a large chest and removed a cloth bundle. Unwrapping it, he handed me a cone of amber colored wood, which glowed like a crystal. “I have begun the preparations, but you must finish this. You must bond with the heart wood of the Kuru, from which all tarran are made, to make this your own. You must hold this and meditate on the history of the Kuru, and seek the blessing of Netalian. I will leave you to it.”

I closed my eyes, stroking the smooth surface of my future tarran, and remembered the stories I had been told from the time of first understanding:

In earliest times, the Qwerastafay were nomads, wandering the vast jungle in search of their True Homes. The people split into seven groups, led by seven chosen ones, who we call the Tree Spirits, and set off to find their Home Trees. Our people, the Netarpa, followed Netalian in this quest. As I remembered the tale of the founding, a song filled my head and I began to sing:

At the dawning of creation
Seven trees for seven nations
Made by Anazuli, wise
She gave each a creature in disguise
Gave Tree Spirits map and key
So that they could plainly see
Which one of many by its mark
Points the way through jungle dark
To proper leaf and proper bark
She let Netalian plainly see
Kuru Dupal is our Home Tree
As Tarran I ask now guide me.

The wood in my hands began to glow, and as I finished my song it seemed to grow warm. I could feel it changing, reshaping itself, as if it were absorbing the song, and singing it back to me. The smooth surface of the cone now bore the image of the Netarpaxylotyl, a small salamander found throughout Netarpa, which migrates through the jungle during mating season. This is the guide Anazuli sent, whose white and grey hide resembles the bark of Kuru Dupal, and whose green markings are the perfect image of its leaves. It is said that Netalian followed the creature through the jungle until he found its home territory, and the largest, oldest tree therein, the Kuru Dupal, which became our Home Tree.

Astonished, I called out for my Master. Sedenka, roused from sleep, came and examined the wonderous object and proclaimed it a new tarran. He helped me to camouflage it as the head of a walking staff, so that it would be less noticeable in my travels. I am to practice using it as a focus point to accomplish the few spells I have learned already. Sedenka had me practice one spell in particular: the spell to summon the winter ice. It took me far longer than it would have taken my Master, but I managed to coat the chamber in a light dusting of snow crystals. My Master smiled. “I wish I had time to teach you more that might be of use, but there is no time. You must return with the potion before the seasons turn, or the Kuru Dupal may not survive,” he said. “And now it is time to gather your companions and collect the first ingredient.”

More time had passed than I knew. When we looked outside, dusk had fallen and the team had already gathered. The three warriors sat around a lantern , while Rotonaka paced nervously.

“It’s about time!” he exclaimed. “All that time for a walking stick?”

Sedenka scowled. “Give the fool a demonstration, boy!” he whispered to me.

I pointed my tarran in Rotonaka’s direction and sang the spell for winter ice. A plump snowball appeared over Rotanaka’s head and crashed down on him. “Impudent child!” he snarled, brushing snow out of his fur.

“I trust your doubts have been settled,” Sedenka chortled. Benaret and Shiran exchanged a glance, which I could not interpret. Retenotar covered his mouth as if stifling a yawn, but I knew he was trying not to laugh. Rotonaka shook with anger, but he said nothing for a change.

Sedenka handed me a fur wrapped parcel. “This is the map. You must guard it carefully, for it is the key to your journey.” He lowered his voice so only I could hear. “Keep it away from Rotanaka, who has ambitions above his abilities. Do not trust that one.”

“Thank you, Master Sedenka, for everything.”

“Not Master any longer, Enewan. You are an apprentice no more. And now, I leave you to your quest. You know the way to the Temple of the Sacred Well, and you know what must be done to reach it.”

“Yes, Mas—Shaman Sedenka.”

“Netalian be with you. Farewell.”

I could not help looking back as we boarded the gondolas that would carry us down to the jungle floor. I was leaving everything I had ever known. And I was responsible for the life or death not just of this small band of travelers, but of the Kuru Dupal and all of my clan. Maybe Rotonaka was not so far off. It seemed a lot for someone my age to handle.

When we touched down on the soft mossy floor of the jungle, we walked around the Home Tree, looking for a tunnel under the roots. The tunnel led down at a fairly steep angle, and was pierced in places by roots that had grown through it. Near the surface, they were healthy and robust, but as we descended, we noticed that the roots were shrunken and smelled of rot.

“The sickness!” Benaret exclaimed.

“Disgusting!” complained Rotonaka, wiping some root slime from his cloak. The odor of rot clung to him.

“Quiet!” I cautioned. “We do not want the Fire Serpent to hear us coming.”

The first clue that we were close was an enormous tube of shed skin lying on the tunnel floor. The size of it was daunting. Even the warriors looked worried. It was clear that the Fire Serpent was no ordinary snake.

I decided not to wait any longer. I unwrapped the tarran slung over my shoulder and began to chant.

Mother Anazuli’s Tears
Take the form of all our fears
Harden into winter frost
Freeze enemies or we’re lost
Let us live all our days
Giving Anazuli praise.

Almost immediately I could see a cloud of my breath in the suddenly frigid tunnel. It had worked. But I had no idea how long it would last. I urged the others onward. Soon the tunnel opened up into a larger chamber. One long main root came down from the center like a large column. Around it twined the monsterous Fire Serpent, which was not a snake at all. It was a lindworm—a wingless dragon with a long serpentine body and two underdeveloped limbs.

Benaret wanted to chop its head off while it slumbered in cold induced stupor, but I was not sure what its blood would do to my winter ice. Better to get what we came for and leave before the beast awakened. That proved to be more difficult than I had anticipated. The Winter Ice spell had also frozen the sacred well. Retenotar had to climb down to the water’s level and chip out a cup full of ice. As soon as he climbed back up, we retreated towards the surface. Shiran and I exchanged concerned looks as the roof of the tunnel began to drip.

“Make haste!’ I ordered. We began to run.

We had just reached the surface when we heard the Fire Serpent roar. My blood ran as cold as the magic ice when I realized how narrowly we had escaped.

In the safety of the lower branches of the Home Tree, we poured the sacred water into a bottle and corked it. One ingredient down. Eight to go.

Although it was late, we loaded our provisions on a cart and set out into the jungle. We had a lot of ground to cover before reaching the next ingredient. I checked the map to be sure we were heading in the right direction. Shiran drove the team of Skraels. Benaret and Retenotar took turns scouting ahead or watching from the back of the cart for any dangers. Rotonaka lounged atop the baggage and snored loudly.
We stopped for the night when it became clear that we could not stay awake much longer. Since he had the benefit of napping along the way, Rotonaka was assigned the first watch.

Before I laid down to sleep, I looked at the map one last time. Tomorrow, we would be entering Salanaen territory, in search of the second ingredient: 6 tail feathers from the anora, spectacularly plumed bird that hunts prey. Since Netarpa is on good terms with the Salaneans, I hoped that the only danger we would face would be from the anora. I wrapped the map up and stuffed it in my bedroll before rolling over to sleep.

Friday, August 26, 2016

2016 Not Back To School Interview with Mikro

Q: What is your favorite subject?
A: Um, there's a lot. Robotics, Paleontology, Geography, Biology, Evolutionary Biology!

Q: What are you best at?
A: Science, especially Paleontology.

Q: I need to get better at __________.
A: Handwriting, note taking, typing, writing essays.

Q: What's the best thing about being a homeschooler?
A: Getting to study what I want and learning at my own pace.

Q: What's the worst thing?
A: No summer break.

Q: What kind of work do you want to do when you grow up?
A: I stand by last year's answer: I want to be a paleontologist, or evolutionary biologist. I also want to do robotics and cartography. I want to be a professor, because I like to lecture, and I would love to work at AMNH someday.

Q: This year I want to learn about ________.
A: Paleontology (of course), astronomy and exoplanets, geography, cartography, history, military history, the Etruscans, Foundations of Eastern Civilization, World War I, robotics, engineering, space exploration, science fiction, fractals, geometry, special effects and animation.

Q: I want to do more _________.
A: Creative Writing. Field trips, especially to AMNH to finish our detailed evolution study.

Q: I want to do less _________.
A: Workbook stuff.

Q: Who is your best friend?
A: Koby.

Q:I want to go on a field trip to __________.
A: Washington DC (and the NASM), Philadelphia and Boston. Also, some day I want to visit a battleship.

Q: I want to go on vacation to __________.
A. Ireland, Germany, Mongolia, Iceland and the U.K.

Q. The most fun or best thing I did last school year was:
A. Competed in the National History Bee and the US Geography Olympiad and went to Chicago for the Nationals. Visited the Chicago museums, especially the Field Museum of Natural History (I saw Sue, the T. Rex and loved the Evolving Planet exhibit), the Museum of Science and Industry (the U-505 was cool!), the Chicago History Museum, Lincoln Park Zoo, Shedd Aquarium and Adler Planetarium (need more time there) and the Art Institute. I also got to see the ISS from our hotel balcony! I liked the hotel, too!

Homeschooling a teen...

Looks a lot like deulling laptops, sometimes! (And I wish I could play banjo well enough to make some appropriate musical accompaniment happen!)

Friday, August 19, 2016

This is the Song that Never Ends: Homeschooling Year Round

Sometimes I feel really jealous of the people who are blogging about their first day of homeschooling for the new academic year. We don't have a first day, or a last for the preceding year. We just keep going. There's no break, and little in the way of brand new books, since we have been at it all along, and are usually already in the middle of things by the time the August/September postings about the new school year start. We are oddities even among homeschoolers, it seems.

Technically, here in NY, the 2015-16 school year ended on June 30, and the new one started on July 1st. We've been quietly clicking along the whole while.

Seventh grade, so far, has been pretty productive. There is a lot going on here.

History/Social Studies:
We are covering the Renaissance through the Enlightenment and the Age of Revolutions, and we will go further if we finish early. (We will also do other eras and topics as Mikro prepares to participate again in the History Bee, and we will cover topics in U.S. History and Government as well.) Current events, especially politics, has become a passion. (I think I owe that to his friend Koby, a self-proclaimed "political junkie.") He watches election coverage daily, and we are always talking about news stories. Mikro has already read a bunch of nonfiction books on the Renaissance and some key figures from the period, as well as fiction set during that time. He's also going to be taking a high school level class in Geography with his favorite professor, and American Musicals Project classes on the American Revolution and World War II at the New York Historical Society.We are continuing our Great Courses history binge, trying to finish up Foundations of Western Civilization, and Great Minds of the Medieval World. I am learning about people that my Ivy League education never touched upon. I love the fact that homeschooling isn't just for the kid. I learn something new all the time!

Science this year is a combination of invertebrate biology, botany, astronomy and an introduction to chemistry (non-organic to start with). We are using high school and college texts, regents books, more popular mainstream science books, together with the Great Courses and Discovery Streaming Education. We are also covering the history of science from about 1100 to 1700. Mikro has read biographies of Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton over the summer. He also enjoyed our trip to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago back in June, and is happy to be able to say that he has now seen the ISS from NYC, Westchester County and Chicago. We are hoping to take a trip sometime this school year to a place where he will be able to see the Milky Way. There's far too much light pollution in our neck of the woods...

Math: We are still struggling with memorization of math facts. He understands the concepts flawlessly, but he is slow computationally because he is using his own algorithms to calculate multiplication facts that he doesn't have perfect recall of yet... He likes complex math, and hates arithmetic. He wants to dive into algebra, and we have put our toes in the water, but I really need to get him faster on his facts since this is a mandatory testing year for us, and he is really anxious in time pressure situations. We are working through the Life of Fred series, and I hope to be in the Algebra book by the second half of the year...

ELA: I have him doing worksheets for grammar. His spelling is as good as mine. He reads at a college level. His writing is amazing, but only if I act as scribe. If he has to type or hand write, he balks after a paragraph or so. I would love for him to be ready to type his own Nanowrimo effort this year...

My left handed dysgraphic teen has got to work on his penmanship and keyboarding. I watched him struggle on the standardized test he took in June-- not with knowledge or understanding-- but with being able to write math equations down fast enough. So this is the year of No Fun Mom demanding worksheets, something I have never done before. He has a 3 inch thick "7th Grade Super Yearbook" that has worksheets for math, ELA, social studies and science, and I am making him do it, not for the underlying subject areas so much as for the handwriting practice. He has worked too hard to be tripped up by something as mundane as the mechanics of getting things from brain to paper, and I am going to push him on it, even though it violates my preferences, and his, because college is looming ever closer, and I am NOT repeating the experience as his scribe. No way, no how. So I feel the clock ticking on this, and it's time for us both to get serious about it.

Study skills: a big focus this year. I need him taking good notes, writing outlines, and getting a better handle on managing his time. I am not a substitute for a planner and a watch. We are going to use the Everyday Guide to Study Skills, and some workbooks. And I am constantly supplementing with tales of my own bad decisions and how they haunted me in my college days. Being a gifted kid who never learned to study before walking into an Ivy League school and getting a rude awakening in the utility of those skills is not something I want him to follow in my footsteps on. Not that I'm sure he's Ivy bound. He wants a career in evolutionary biology and/or paleontology, so he will be applying to the places with the strongest departments in those areas, whether state or private. Either way, he will not go unprepared. Not on my watch!

State of the Mikro Address:

Wow, he's changing. He's a teenager, and his body and his personality are in flux. The occasionally deep voice emanating from his lanky, skinny body still surprises me. He's all legs and elbows. He reminds me of a great blue heron. Gangly, but fast. The eyerolls and attitude have also been installed in Mikro 1.13. It seems like a bigger adjustment for me than for him sometimes. Who is this tall, sometimes stinky, sometimes surly, young man that has replaced my sweet, cute, little boy? Time will tell. He's growing up, and I am confronting the idea that, before I know it, he will be out on his own. That fact is guiding our homeschooling, as well as life in general. I can't wait to see who he becomes. He's a great kid. I think he'll be a really good man.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Inside the Collections: Paleontology and the Big Bone Room

Mikro, Kev and I have been in the Big Bone Room shown in the video above! We took a Behind the Scenes in Paleontology tour at AMNH when Mikro was about 4 years old. We were lucky to get in back then, because there is a minimum age (10) requirement that we didn't know about. Kev had to agree to carry Mikro (until he pointed out photos of Roy Chapman Andrews and started identifying fossils, at which point they let him down and answered a slew of questions!)

This year's tour was completely different, and involved the preparator's lab (which was also on the first tour, but had different fossils), and invertebrate paleontology and microfossils. (The first tour we saw vertebrates (mammals and fish) as well as the Big Bone Room.

I highly recommend this event for anyone with a paleontology obsessed kid like Mikro!

Friday, April 8, 2016

Marching Dinosaurs - Animated Size Comparison

Mikro loved this video. I am amazed at his rapid fire identifications of the creatures strolling past. Wish this came as a screensaver!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Mental Math and a Free Trial

Great Courses Plus is running a free month promotion.  I encourage everyone to check it out.  There is an amazing  banquet of knowledge available.  Right now, Mikro and I are doing Secrets of Mental Math.  I wish I had access to this while I was in school.  Simple and practical tips!  Highly recommended! 

(And to make the Nanny State happy: I have no financial stake in this.  I just think it is worth sharing!)